Friday, February 8, 2013

Times Flashback to August 2010

It was 30 months ago.  Times writer Stephen Nohlgren dug into the fears that the Rays could leave Tampa Bay.  And his extensive reporting was summed up in the headline: "History suggests Rays won't move."

An excerpt:
But how likely is it, really, that another city can woo the team away anytime soon?

Not very, if history is any guide.

Twenty teams have secured new stadiums since 1988, when the Chicago White Sox used St. Petersburg as a stalking horse to extract a sweetheart deal from Illinois.

In every city, voters gripe about using tax money. But mayors, legislators and county officials eventually find a way to get the deal done — mostly at public expense.

Except for one anomaly, no baseball team has moved in 38 years.
If you only started reading the Times in 2013, you might think the Rays were on their way out of town.  But that's not what Nohlgren found in 2010:
Rays owner Sternberg recently said that five cities without baseball are better markets than Tampa Bay. He doesn't name them, but identifies them only as "the usual suspects.''

They didn't lure the Twins from Minnesota, which was supposedly such a bad baseball market and had such a bad stadium that baseball threatened to eliminate the Twins in 2002. Instead, the team stuck it out and is now playing its first season at glistening Target Field.

Nielsen Media Research lists Tampa-St. Petersburg as the ninth-best cable market in the country, which is a big plus for the Rays, says Dennis Coates, a sports economist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"If you don't have a big local broadcast market, you are not going to get anywhere,'' Coates says. "Portland doesn't. Las Vegas doesn't. San Antonio is cheek-to-jowl with Houston. I don't see how easy it would be for them to wrest a team away.''

Marc Rosentraub, a University of Michigan economist, is no fan of Tropicana Field. It was designed at the end of the multipurpose era, sat empty for a decade and then original owner Vince Naimoli signed a 30-year lease, even though the stadium was already "economically obsolete,'' he says.
In modern baseball stadiums, half of gross revenues usually come from premium seats close to the action, luxury boxes and amenities that the Trop can't offer, he says.

"The Rays find themselves in a situation where most of their competitors can offer that luxury experience and they can't.''
But Rosentraub, who consulted with the city of San Diego when it built a new stadium in 2004, pooh-poohs the notion that better markets are just waiting to snatch up the Rays.

Greater New York could support a third team, he says, but the Yankees and Mets would block such a move. Other cities are too small.
"There are no markets left,'' Rosentraub says. "No place they can move to would be any different.''
Nohlgren went on to explain why the Montreal Expos' relocation didn't count ('94 strike, attendance under 10,000, etc).
Other than that instance, where the league profited, individual team owners are urged to work things out with existing cities or to sell to someone who will.
The commissioner typically issues statements that a team can't stay in a mediocre stadium forever, but pulling the trigger on a move can be traumatic. Lawsuits follow, with hometown judges at the helm. Congressional representatives challenge baseball's limited antitrust exemption.

The San Francisco Giants, for example, tried for years to ditch windy Candlestick Park, another aging football stadium. Voters refused three times to commit tax money and then-baseball commissioner Fay Vincent announced that owner Bob Lurie could shop the team to interlopers from other cities.

Who should pop up but a Tampa industrialist?

In 1992, jubilant St. Petersburg officials announced Vince Naimoli had bought the Giants and would move them to its then-empty dome. Then, National League president Bill White vetoed the sale and rounded up a new local owner for San Francisco.

After that, further threats to leave San Francisco lost all credibility. When its new stadium opened in 2000, the city installed infrastructure that enhanced surrounding waterfront land owned by the Giants. But the team footed almost the entire $325 million construction cost.
Nohlgren also digs into why the Rays won't build themselves a stadium or pay huge fees to escape the Trop contract:
At best, teams like the Rays might expect a $25 million to $40 million revenue boost from a new stadium, some economists estimate, and part of that must be shared with other teams.  On the cost side, yearly bond payments on a $600 million stadium would run $35 million to $50 million, canceling out revenue gains. And bonds must be repaid, even if there is another recession and fans stay home.

For a midmarket team, paying the whole construction bill is all risk and no gain.
The article indicates the biggest threat to Rays fans is not relocation, but eventual firesales of top talent.  Nohlgren also reminded us that St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay should be no stranger to the leverage game.
Miami, the Tampa Bay area, Denver and Phoenix were virgin territory before baseball awarded them expansion franchises in the 1990s. No less than five teams threatened to move to the Tampa Bay area.
St. Petersburg "should send a bill to the Mariners, White Sox and Giants for the leverage they gave to build nice buildings,'' says Rodney Fort, a sports economist at the University of Michigan.
That was 2010.  Might be time for the Times to re-print the masterpiece.

1 comment:

  1. Nohlgren looked at the situation clearly, without the cloud of "OMG! IF WE DON'T GIVE THEM WHAT THEY'RE DEMANDING, THEY'LL LEAVE!!!" hysteria that most of the bay area media outlets have fallen prey to lately.
    The only blip in his tome was the assumption that "...National League president Bill White vetoed the sale and rounded up a new local owner for San Francisco..." There were forces greater than White that kept the Gi-ants in 'Frisco. From the extensive book "STADIUM FOR RENT:
    Tampa Bay's Quest for Major League Baseball" By Bob Andelman, in chapter 26 ...
    "... The idea that baseball might allow a franchise to leave the No. 5 television market in the country, San Francisco, for the No. 13 market, Tampa Bay, was pure idiocy to CBS. The introduction of CBS executive (and San Francisco native) Larry Baer to the behind-the-scenes machinations of the San Francisco bid left no doubt from where the real power and influence of this deal came. It wasn't Bob Lurie, Vince Naimoli, Mayor Frank Jordan, Walter Shorenstein or Bill White. Baseball was warned that a bonehead move of the Giants out of San Francisco could cause the '94 broadcast offer to be in the neighborhood of $500-million, or 50 percent less than the old deal. That's power..."

    CBS did not want a franchise to leave a top 10 media market and exercised it's clout to keep 'em there. Media partners have a huge say in how sports leagues are run, even more now than when this happened.

    CBS is now exerting clout behind the scenes to guarantee an AFC expansion franchise in L.A. to enhance the value of it's NFL contract.

    BTW - Not surprising that 'Frisco native and baseball nut Baer ended up as part of the new Gi-ants owner group in a minority capacity, he is now the top man.

    You can read this at...